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Coke shuts up, Pepsi moans

New Delhi, Aug. 6: Top executives of Coke and Pepsi went into separate huddles as they scrambled to find a way to contain the damage to their reputations after an NGO uncorked a study that accused them of selling drinks with cancer-causing pesticide residue.

There was no word on what emerged from the meetings. Both companies are believed to be considering legal action against the Centre for Science and Environment for its sensational disclosure.

“The report (alleging that the drinks are contaminated) has been presented in a sensational manner which has caused Parliament to panic,” said Pepsi spokeswoman Annie Cyria, commenting on the ban at India’s centre of power.

Asked to comment on reports that the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration and the Bengal government had said they would investigate the manufacturing facilities of both the soft drinks makers, she said: “We are confident that our products will meet the norms.”

Pepsi officials said the company used groundwater to make its drinks after treating it “through complex scientific methods, including the reverse osmosis process”.

Coca-Cola executives were unavailable for comment. It is not the first time Coke has battened down the hatches in the face of a mounting crisis.

The present controversy is redolent of the crisis that erupted in Belgium in June 1999 when schoolchildren complained of headache, nausea and shivering after drinking Coke, forcing the government to ban the cola drink and sparking massive recalls of cans across Europe.

That crisis precipitated the collapse of the Belgian government. At that time too, Coke officials had remained incommunicado even after a ban on sales.

Its silence now stands in contrast to the glee in camps such as the Swadeshi Jagran Manch which had directed its wrath particularly at the cola twins.

Manch convener Murlidhar Rao said: “Those who believe that MNCs strictly adhere to quality norms stand exposed now. With their powerful muscle, the MNCs play games more forcefully than Indian companies. We never felt their (MNCs) presence is helpful for the consumer or the country. In every sphere they are getting exposed.”

There are reports of soft drink advertisements being defaced in Mumbai. In Calcutta, an effigy of a bottle was burnt.

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